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Work packages (WPs)

WP1: The epistemology of data visualizations  (Rettberg)

With digitalization we see a new set of affordances and constraints in what can be expressed through DV: maps, timelines and statistics are easily visualized, but what kind of knowledge is less easily expressed? What might we lose with this new form of communication? This WP will survey, compare and synthesize theoretical and critical approaches to DV. Recent terms like José van Dijck's dataism, referring to the belief in quantitative data as more objective than other forms of information, will be connected to concurrent and earlier trends in society and science, including positivism, posthumanism, and broader notions of neoliberalist efficiency and quantification, as well as alternative forms of DV such as Johanna Drucker's proposals for qualitative visualizations (2011).

Research Questions:

  • What kinds of knowledge and information can and cannot be expressed through DV?
  • What are the common genres of DV, and what are examples of outliers and atypical DV? 


WP2:  Data visualizations and digital metaphors  (Brinch)

The goal of WP2 is to present a theory of how cognitive mindsets and the affordances of media technologies and software applications interact in visual tropes found in digital data visualizations.

Visualizations of ‘big data’ have brought along a growing consciousness about the potentials for forming knowledge through data visualizations and infographics, as well as a focus on the beauty and aesthetics of visualization as such ( e.g. Lima 2011, McCandless 2012). Some studies also focus on how DVs generate knowledge parallel to written discourse (e.g. McCosker & Wilken 2014). In this WP image studies oriented theories on visual figures, theories of visual analytics and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s (1980) work on how we relate to and engage with metaphors in our everyday life will be combined with theories of media aesthetics (Mitchell 2015). The purpose of this is to analyse figural strategies found in various visualization practices (infographics included), exemplified in a material based on ‘best practice’ presentations, with a particular focus on information concerning natural resources and climate. The result will be a comparative study of the tropes found both in analogue and digital visualizations, implying that the project also has a historical aspect.

Research Question:

  • How are metaphors used in DV to make information more cognitive comprehensible and how are different metaphors interpreted by DV-readers?


WP3:  Data visualization seen as a semiotic, aesthetic and technological resource  (Weber, Engebretsen) 

In this WP we will map, investigate and  analytically test relevant theories from a range of fields: linguistics, semiotics, aesthetics, visual studies, psychology, Science and Technology Studies and design studies. Based on these theoretical and analytical investigations, we will develop a set of concepts and models adapted to design purposes as well as to analytical, critical and pedagogical purposes.

Research Questions:

  • How can dynamic and interactive DVs be described, categorized and evaluated as
  1. multimodal resources for meaning-making and communication
  2. aesthetic resources for sensory perception and bodily experience
  3. technology-based artifacts affording specific forms of representation and interaction and specific processes of design, production, distribution and consumption
  • How do relevant theories and concepts apply to critical investigations of DV practices?
  • How do relevant theories and concepts apply to investigations of DV literacy and to the production of educational material for DV learning?


WP4:   Data visualization and Universal Design   (Snaprud)

Since 1st of July 2014 online content aimed at a general audience in Norway must be universally designed. This should allow all citizens to participate in the information society in general and to enable a well informed democratic discourse. Still, there are large parts of public content not yet conforming to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, as required in the regulation. Statistics Norway (SSB) is an important source of information for the democratic debate, and has a clear goal to make the online communication more universally designed. This WP aims at investigating the status and future potentials of digital DV from the perspective of Universal Design, comparing research data (DVs) from SSB with data from other National Statistics Institutes (NSIs).

Research Question:

  • How can the concept of Universal Design apply to digital DV, and how can the level of Universal Design in DV be evaluated and raised?


WP5: Data visualization in education (Seip Tønnessen)

This project will focus on the use of DV in upper secondary education, exploring digital and visual literacy in the context of subject learning. WP5 will pay particular attention to literacy skills in the natural and social sciences, where DVs from big data sets are increasingly relevant. Both curricula aim at developing the students as researchers, claiming that this “main subject area is essential to all the other main subject areas” (KP 2013). Learning objectives include the ability to search, find, compare and evaluate information.

Relevant material for this WP will be selected based on a mapping of digital learning resources produced for educational purposes (e.g., supplemented by parallel digital material mediated for the general public within areas such as climate change, demography and ecology. National and local curricula documents will be examined for contextualization purposes.

Research questions:

  • How are digital visual representations of numeric data designed, produced and distributed for use in Norwegian school, and how are they integrated in educational strategies?
  • How are DVs read, understood and integrated with previous knowledge by young students?


WP6:  Innovative DV in Norwegian and European news discourse (Engebretsen, Kennedy, Weber)

The legitimacy of the news media rests on the perceived relations between the news reports and the factual world, and on the abilities of the journalists to present complex events and conditions in textual forms that are both intelligible and engaging for an audience of non-experts (Handgaard et al. 2013). The use of statistics and other data may provide the audience with confidence that the news stories are fact-based. Visualizations bear promise of making such data intelligible and relevant – and even beautiful (Tufte 2006). Digital, networked media offer new tools both for harvesting data and for representation and communication of data, tools that are not yet fully explored (Gynnild 2013). Dynamic and interactive DVs are believed to create a stronger fascination of the senses and a higher level of activity and emotional engagement on the side of the user (Cairo 2013). But the empirical verification of this belief is deficient, due to a lack of relevant user studies. Thus, it is of great interest to investigate empirically how the new tools for data visualization are used, and how users perceive, interpret and respond to DV in the context of online journalism.

Research questions:

  • What is the status of innovative (dynamic and/or interactive) DV on major news sites in Norway, compared to the situation in comparable European countries? What is the extent of use, what characterizes their forms and what roles do they play in the multimodal discourse in which they appear? (Kennedy, Weber, Engebretsen)
  • What are the ideas and experiences of the leaders and designers in these news organizations concerning DV? (Kennedy, Weber, Engebretsen)
  • What characterizes the processes of design, production and distribution of innovative DVs in a major news organization like NRK? (Engebretsen)
  • How are innovative DVs offered by a major Norwegian news organization like NRK understood and used by the news audience? (Engebretsen)


WP7:   Data visualization and deliberative democracy   (Nærland, Engebretsen)    

  • What are the relations between data visualization, visual-numeric literacy and democratic practices and resources?

WP7 will summarize the findings from WPs 1-6 and assess the democratic implications of these in light of what has come to be known as deliberative theories of democracy (Habermas 1992). In the existing body of theory, writing and oratory are favored as modes of public communication, as these are seen to facilitate public argumentation as well as the dissemination and uptake of information – all of which constitute core practices in a functioning democracy. Yet, as recently argued by several scholars (Nærland 2014), this favoritism takes place at the expense of visual, sonic or narrative modes of public communication. The expansion of DV in society thus necessitates both the assessment of DV as a democratic practice in itself, and, the reassessment of democratic theory in light of the developments that DV represents.

On the one hand, DV involves a new and emerging mode of communication that may or may not enable (media) institutions to fulfill their ideal function as facilitators of public discourse and disseminators of information and arguments.  On the other, DV necessitates a new kind of literacy among its audiences that may or may not enable them to act as informed and critical citizens. Consequently, WP7 discusses the findings from the overall project in light of the following two interrelated aspects of DV:

DV and communicative rationality: To which extent does the visual and multimodal  language of DV enable the diffusion of arguments and statements about the world open to argument and falsification, or conversely; does DV involve concealment or obscuration? Here, findings from the previous WPs will be discussed in light of the core concept of ‘communicative rationality’ (Habermas 1981).

DV and civic culture: to which extent can DV be seen to provide its audiences with resources that enable them to act as citizens? Here, the findings from the project will be discussed in light of the multidimensional conceptual framework of ‘Civic culture’ (Dahlgren 2000) which captures the different ways in which engagement with the media may function as resource for democratic participation and inclusion.


WP8:  Visualizing connections through lines:  forms & functions (PhD-project: Lechner)

Since the second half of the twentieth century “problems of organized complexity” represent a major challenge in different research fields (Lima 2011). In order to provide an understandable medium for showing the connections that form our complex world, more and more data visualizations are made accessible for the broad public. Many of them use the basic graphic element of the line to describe these connections, which also appears in many other specialized fields as well as in our digital and non-digital everyday life (e.g. visual programming, electric circuit diagrams, family trees, transportation maps). But what conventions exist on the production side of these visualizations (graphical expression) as well as on the reception side (in the meaning making process)? How is additional information (e.g. the level of uncertainty) graphically added to connecting lines, and how does the audience make meaning out of it?

Research questions:

  • How are lines currently used in publicly accessible, digital data visualizations to describe connections? (regarding their graphical forms & functions)
  • What semiotic potentials of graphical lines lines can be identified and proved useful for future data visualization productions?

In order to answer these questions, different theoretical frameworks (semiotics, social semiotics, coherence theory) will be used to analyze a broad range of publicly accessible, digital data visualizations.